As we celebrate half a century of sovereignty, it would be ac­ceptable perhaps to give an overview of the past 50 years and pat ourselves on the back for making Malta the modern European country it is now. But this is more than a 50th anniversary; it is a golden opportunity to look forward with the spirit of those before us who showed great courage knowing the huge challenges they were facing to make Malta a truly democratic, open, thriving, European nation state, in doing what is right.

The essential question for all of us is: what kind of society do we want Malta to be when the Maltese of 2039 and 2064 celebrate 75 and 100 years of independence? This is the longer-term vision we need, rather than the here-and-now political rough and tumble we’re used to.

Malta has changed several times since 1964 and in many ways. On an anniversary like this, one would perhaps extol the many changes for the better. But we’ve had our fair share of those for the worse. And there’s no better way to look at the future than to be honest with ourselves.

Change can only accelerate as we become a society of societies, even more networked among ourselves and the world, with many more Maltese contributing to their own well-being and that of the country in Europe, with a workforce that includes all women of working age, a bigger population and many more people living to a healthy old age.

What kind of change will all this bring about? What kind of leadership do we need for that change to be for the better?

Our politics have served us generally well in the past 50 years, but we’ve had several years of extreme political polarisation, and worse. We’ve come through the bad times with a huge dose of courage, but we still operate in an adversarial political environment that has much more than a fair share of insults and disrespect.

The way we do politics needs to be transformed if we want to be on the right side of the future. Will we still have weekly political diatribes in Sunday ‘sermons’ for the faithful in 2039? Will we still have radio and TV stations controlled by politicians in 2064? I know most people would say we are in a better state than the tax-paid political brainwashing we had at certain times. But the acceptable and the mediocre is not what we should aspire to. We need to do better.

The kind of society we want to live in has to put a higher value on what is public and collective. One of our biggest challenges in the next decades will certainly be the environment, and that’s not a new challenge. One way not to deal with this challenge is to start the blame game. That’s the way superficial politics operates: “you made a mistake, so that gives me licence for sacrilege”. Anything goes, privatisation of the environment, bending environmental rules to benefit a few – is that the country we’ll bequeath future generations after a hundred years of independence?

We have to have the courage to change, to be radical, to do the right thing

The best of the past 50 years were those when politicians reduced their own power and gave it to the people. This is the meaning of true independence and sovereignty: the power to choose for each one of us. The idea that we should be beggars in front of politicians is the antithesis of independence. Attacking cronyism in Maltese politics is radical and does not pay electoral dividends – cronies have votes and influence. But is that the state of politics we should be in after 75 or a hundred years of independence?

In future, we will face economic competition from countries that have just emerged from the forced restructuring they had to go through in the crisis that started in 2008. True, in Malta, we barely felt the crisis. But a competitive economy based on private initiative has to innovate continuously, as our competition is doing. The demand for public sector jobs will always bear heavily on politicians who want to win votes. But that’s not the kind of competitive, innovative, productive economy we should, or can, have in 2039. And that needs a transformation of the way we do politics.

I can list other challenges we face. Truly independent institutions rather than undermining them with partisan appointments; civil disagreement rather than insulting critics and the minority; an overhaul of institutions to better represent the long-term collective good not the short-term interests of politicians and others.

We have to have the courage to change, to be radical, to do the right thing, to be on the right side of the future as we have often been on the right side of history, to inspire ourselves from the best times we’ve had in this past half century and the courage of true leaders, not from the mediocre and the convenient and the superficial.

We have to be, ourselves, the change we want in this Malta we all love. Only that can be a fitting celebration of this 50th anniversary of independence.

Simon Busuttil is leader of the Nationalist Party.